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The Man Who Built the Lord’s House

I remember Frank as an old man, always kneeling in some corner to measure or drill, quietly with trembly hands. I remember staring at the nub where I’d heard he’d lost a finger to a chop saw, and wondering if it was still lying in his shop somewhere.

Frank would have been nearly 80 the summer he built our shed, when he showed up every morning in a white V-neck that matched his nest of hair, opening the hatch of his minivan to a cloud of sawdust. He let my brothers do most of the building, guiding the circular saw over their shoulders. That summer was the most I’d ever heard Frank say anything, and that shed happened to be the last thing he built for us before he died.

Frank built our picnic table, too, and tiled the foyer floor, and carved the oak cabinets that span our kitchen wall. They’re the first things folks notice when they step through our front door. And when we all sit down to dinner, Mom will ask me to serve cookies or grab a pitcher from Frank’s Cabinets, and neither of us will realize we’ve given that corner his name.

In most places, Frank went nameless. At church, he sat in the back row, and at five-foot-four, he was usually missed altogether. He ducked in and out of service each week, but it was only to return to the carpentry shop in his garage, where he’d make cuts and work at his lathe. He’d come back with measured pieces that slid right into place. Anyone passing the secretary’s office would have seen the tiered desk and row of cabinets Frank had built. Yesterday was Sunday, and I stepped into the office to see worship music and prayer sheets scattered across that desk, and I thought about the service it’s seen. The front office is the first place homeless folks go for help. It’s where kids stop for mints. It’s where Mrs. Mindi worked for 20 years, meeting people at the door and welcoming them into the Lord’s house.

Frank wasn’t the minister, and he didn’t lead the prayer meeting. He simply did what his knobby hands knew to do, and so provided a place for ministry and prayer to happen. Years after he died, the folks at First Baptist still enjoy the work of his hands, even if they don’t remember the worker— and I find that a common theme in God’s story. It’s the quiet laborers whose work spans generations. Frank might have been shorter than even me, but as Francis Shaeffer would argue, there are “no little people” in God’s kingdom.

That’s the thing about consecrated work: long after the worker is gone, it keeps serving the Living God. Bethany J. Melton

I think of Bezalel, who built the tabernacle, whom the Lord filled with “knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs,” and especially “in carving wood” (Ex. 31:4-5). We never hear where Bezalel was buried, or if they etched on his stone, The Man Who Built The Lord’s House. But we do know God came to dwell in the house he built and stood glorified there for 400 years. That’s the thing about consecrated work: long after the worker is gone, it keeps serving the Living God.

We sometimes laugh about the longevity of Frank’s work, because when he built our family’s picnic table, he soldered it to a steel frame. It’s a bear to move. I have a feeling if a Midwestern storm blew through and took our home, that picnic table and wall of cabinets would be left standing, like altars among the wreckage. When I told Frank’s sister about that, she laughed and said they have a family joke: If it isn’t heavy, Frank didn’t build it.

In a church culture that often tries to hit folks with an immediate, radical impact, I can’t help but hope for more holy work that’s sturdy enough to serve the next generation. Frank’s Cabinets stand the wear and tear of six kids and five grandkids— the meals, grocery hauls, and holidays when we pack the counter with pies. They stand there quietly, the way Frank did, and serve us.

And the shed? It’s there, too, crouched at the woodline. The spring of ‘16, my little brother spent his school lunch breaks helping Frank build it—or rather, building what Frank let him. My brother is 18 now and eyeing a degree in Construction Management. He spent the last year building a 2,800-square-foot home in our neighborhood, using a circular saw and sander the way Frank taught him. That home will belong to a family from our church, who will bring God’s Spirit into it— and so, in a way, it will be the Lord’s house.

I never heard where they buried Frank, and I doubt his tombstone remembers him as The Man Who Built The Lord’s House. He didn’t leave behind an engraved name, but he did leave our church members with sturdy tables and tractor sheds. He didn’t reach the unreached, but he did extend his carpenter’s hands as far as they could reach— right into the heart of Jesus’s local body.

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